Riot police in show of strength after rival supporters throw bottles
Prague police arrested more than 10 English troublemakers last night during a fierce show of strength by officers in the city’s picturesque Old Town.
Violence flared two hours before the Euro 2020 qualifying defeat by Czech Republic when fans from opposing nations launched bottles at each other. To break up the stand-off, officers in armoured protection set off a series of smoke grenades and wrestled at least 10 Englishmen to the ground.
It was the only ugly incident during largely good-natured scenes ahead of the qualifier. However, police said they were prepared for a long and busy night as fans returned to the city’s all-night drinking venues after full-time.
Police at times outnumbered the largely well-behaved English fans, who congregated in two Irish bars on the edge of the cobblestoned Old Town. At least one England fan was injured and taken to hospital after clashes at 7pm. An official police statement said that 30 arrests had been made, including 14 foreigners.
Many England fans said officers had been too heavy-handed. Nick Freedom, who was among those drinking in the Old Town “having a beer and a laugh”, wrote on Twitter: “Few songs bit loud but not a crime eh. Old bill just marched through in full riot gear with 20 snarling dogs. Went into the boozer too. Bit odd. Show of force maybe but atmosphere suddenly changes. No need.”
Around 6,000 England supporters travelled to the city and were welcomed by the local nightspots, which were predicting recordbreaking Friday night takings. The official ticket allocation for England fans was 3,800.
Police deployed special anti-riot units, helicopters and officers on horseback. Around 11 British police officers were also in the city working with their Czech counterparts.
The “ring of steel” police tactics were adopted after the UK’S most senior police officer with responsibility for football asked Uefa to try to move the qualifier. Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said that his request had been rejected despite police and Football Association concerns that the “high-risk” fixture was not being played in midweek or “at a time when you are not going to encourage people with a stag-do mentality to go across and cause problems”.
The FA has been under pressure to help improve fan behaviour after recent trouble. The fixture also coincided with a national day of mourning for the country’s most famous singer, Karel Gott.
Two bars confirmed their normal menus of absinthe would not be on offer. Absinthe has an alcohol content of up to 70 per cent.
Arm of the law: A football fan is led away by police in Prague last night